The pandemic has stimulated much change in retail, including how customers choose to interact with retailers. At a time when stores were closed, many shoppers opted other routes to engage with their favoured brands – from Instagram to virtual shopping.
Normality may have resumed as restrictions have been lifted but these new ways of engagement remain as relevant as in lockdown.
John Lewis omnichannel director Cassandra Bergsland joined the department store in the middle of the 2020 lockdown, when the retailer was scrambling to find ways to interact with customers at a time when stores were closed.
At a time when digital was 100% of sales, John Lewis found new relevance in its app. Sales via the channnel grew from 13% when Bergsland joined the retailer to 30% last year.
“The strategy we’re most proud of is our focus on the app,” she tells Shoptalk Europe. “We spent a lot of 2021 making sure we were driving the app to our customers.”
“We’re educating partners in our stores about why the app is so important. These are our plans for the app to help interact with customers in a different way.”
Made.com chief executive Nicola Thompson says the pandemic was a key moment for the business to understand how customers want to shop with it.
The furniture etailer found a new route to the customer when it launched a shoppable interactive virtual reality (VR) experience to showcase its latest collection to customers stuck in lockdown.
Customers were able to explore Made.com’s Amsterdam showroom in virtual reality, which had four rooms filled with the brands latest products. Augmented reality within the app helped customers see how furniture will fit into their space.
“The pandemic meant people became comfortable with inviting others into their homes, so we created a digital proposition to offer help to customers while they are at home,” Thompson says.
As well as VR shopping, the retailer also offers a live chat service for customers, which Thompson says helps drive “incredibly attractive” average order values.
Thompson argues that VR and live chat is only the beginning.
“There are always new and interesting ways to reach customers. The big opportunity for retailers is understanding that we are now in the world where the customer is truly in control,” she says.
“We can’t just hand them a catalogue to choose things from. Those days are gone.”
“We don’t think of ourselves as an ecommerce business. We’re a commerce business. Commerce means everywhere.”
The shop remains a vital route to the customer, however, both Thompson and Bergsland believe the store environment will be increasingly digitised.
Bergsland says: “Our customers still want to come into stores. Stores are incredibly important and will continue to be.” However, she says John Lewis needs to make sure it has “the underpinning to make use of digital in stores”.
This is a move Made.com has already made. Thompson says:”The way you move in the showroom is better if you have your mobile with you because of the QR codes we offer.”